Writing, as they say, is the act of rewriting. Few stories can capture the masses on the first try, and it is only through an endless series of scrutinizing edits and reviews that one can slowly, one letter at a time, direct a story on the path to perfection. These changes can be as grand as the removal of a character, or they can be as small as the single word that makes the difference between ten tears and two. And so, here is a tale I've spent many tellings rewriting. This is the story of the man who saw murder.
It all began at the intersection between Second and Third. The sun was high in the sky; the clouds, sparse and wafting; the wind, calm but with a hint of whimsy, and the trees, green and glistening with dew. This man, tired from his high-paying executive job but excited to see wife and kids had not a reason for worry.
Then, at that intersection he would never forget, he witnessed something terrible. He witnessed a homeless man. But do not think ill of our tragic protagonist yet, for it was more than just the sight of a homeless man. Sure, later on he would admit that from time to time that they made him uncomfortable, either from fear that they might go crazy and attack him, or from the inkling of guilt he felt as he passed them ignoring a plight he couldn't fix anyway. No different from the common everyman, wouldn't you say? Regardless I digress, our scene is incomplete. This poor innocent man by the name of Walter Cunning saw a homeless man murdered.
Imagine seeing murder five blocks from your home. Alas Walter had been in his lamborghini and thus safe from harm, but nevertheless he still witnessed everything from unsheathing to stabbing. In the commotion of blood and screams he was unable to tell who or why, but to him such was irrelevant. He had never seen murder before, and it would be something he could never unsee.
He called the police immediately, and went through all the procedures required of him as a witness. At the first possible instant he ran home to his family and gave they exchanged a storm of hugs and kisses. He told the tale and each of them became as terrorized as he. To have happened so close shattered their perceptions of safety and comfort. Their world had been turned upside down. Would they run? Would they hide? Would they move? Where would they go?
But as a thousand questions such as these raced through his mind, Walter Cunning thought of one that blew them all away: Why leave? Why did he and his family have to abandon their home he worked day in and day out to acquire? He hadn't spent years in university, costing his parents thousands upon thousands of dollars, to be scared out of his neighborhood. He hadn't accepted this job, through a connection by his brother, just to throw it away at the first sign of trouble. He hadn't purchased a house and had two beautiful daughters, granting them every luxury, only to have their perfect childhood tainted. He was a citizen! He was entitled! He had rights! And he wasn't going to give them up.
The entire family mobilized. Walter Cunning went straight for the media, and gave them all the kindling they'd need. They sparked his tale from a campfire story to a forest fire, and soon every middle class, middle aged citizen from coast to coast knew the story of the man who saw murder, and his fight for safe suburbia. People emphasized far and wide with the man whose whole family now lived in fear. They thought of their own kids and their own homes, and what living through that would be like for them. A radio show even brought on a psychologist to talk about what it would do to a child to live in such an environment. Her grave and vivid prognosis solidified in hearts and minds that the children were the real victims here. Walter Cunning's two daughters even made an appearance on television to bring a face to the tragic tale.
While the husband informed the masses, his wife rallied the troops. President of every student government from preschool to university, she used her skills as a leader and political prowess as a poly-sci major to encourage her concerned local neighbours to protest at police stations and government offices for action. They wanted the lives they were promised and the tranquility they were advertised. They ensured that no one could walk the streets of that district without being bombarded by signs, chants, flyers, buttons, bumper stickers, and custom-made t-shirts. Their memorabilia attached their message to every passersby like a leech, and soon everyone within ten kilometers was a walking billboard for the cause.
Their efforts, day after day, added fuel to the fire the media had been building for weeks, and the one the mayor had spent many restless nights watching. Seeing no other way out, he ordered his police force to ensure, from that day forward, that the suburban neighbourhood near the intersection of Second and Third would be free from loiterers, punks, and vagabonds alike. Change was finally in the air.
And Walter breathed that air for the rest of his life. From then on, every day he came home from work all he saw parents and their kids, parks and play, laughter and smiles. Although he would never be able to escape the terror of that one unforgettable drive, each of these joyous sights reminded him that he and his family had built this; that it was their determination and strength that saved the neighbourhood, and that if he, Walter Cunning, put his mind to something and cared deeply enough, he could accomplish anything. It would take many years, but one day, he figured, one day he would finally feel as safe as he did before that brush with death.
A touching tale filled with fear, conflict, and hope. All the perfect ingredients of a touching drama. Feedback has brought it through many changes since its original and unrelatable draft: the man who was murdered, but that is simply the nature of storytelling. And so ended the narrative of the Peter Jacks, perfect as a plot point, but never a plot.